Bestselling author and business visionary Dr. John Izzo helps companies maximize their potential from the ground up. For over 20 years, Izzo has worked with thousands of leaders around the world, on employee-engagement strategies and brand transformations. Dr. Izzo explains below how each of us can take a leadership role at work:
Leadership is not a position. You can’t be assigned or appointed to be a leader. Leadership is not about what your business card says, what your title is, or where you sit on the organizational chart in your company. Leadership is a posture, it is a decision that you want to have influence over others in a positive way.
Not only is leadership not a position, the truth is that you can’t “not” lead. That is, whether you want to or not, you will have influence over others. Simply by choosing to show up a certain way in our lives and at work, we are leading. Each of us spreads a virus by the way we show up even if we don’t intend to.
Try this little experiment. Next time you enter a conversation that is negative, intentionally shift gears and watch what happens. If someone is talking negatively about your company or someone who works with you, turn it around and make a positive comment. Watch how the energy shifts. Or try one day to have no influence at all. Simply be quiet on every issue that comes up. Before you know it, people will be falling all over themselves to ask you for your viewpoint. Your very silence and desire to have no influence at all will have influenced the course of the conversation.
Since leadership is not a position, it means that each of us can punch way above our weight. We don’t need a title or a position of power to have influence. Of course claiming we have no influence is a great crutch that can keep us from having to step up. We can say things like “if they ever give me some real authority around here, let me tell you what I would do.” Well here is a news flash, you already have authority. You already are a leader. The only questions is how you are using the influence that you already have?
Part of stepping up is deciding to lead bigger than whatever your role. Your job description may say you have a certain responsibility but if you want to get ahead, decide to lead bigger than your role says you should.
Leading beyond your job description or your defined role can happen in the most unlikely of places. Canadian Tire is a large home grown retail hardware and general goods chain. Some years ago they came up with a slogan: Customers for Life. The idea was simple which is that we want to win you as a customer for life. They wanted to be so service-oriented and treat customers so well that we would want to bring our business to them for life.
In some jobs it was pretty obvious how people could take the lead on this effort. But there was one group of people where the connection might not be so clear. There were a group of people in a call center that spent their entire day calling people whose store sponsored credit cards were overdue. All day long they would call delinquent customers to try to get them to pay their bills. It sounds like a pretty tough way to win customers for life. In fact, who wants a customer for life who can’t pay their bills anyway? It would be easy to cut some slack for anyone in that department who thought to themselves “it’s not my job to win customers for life!”
One of the agents made an outgoing call to talk to a woman who was months behind on paying a fairly substantial bill to Canadian Tire. The agent asked when the money might be paid and the woman told her this story. She said she had decided to start a home candle-making business where she would have parties at people’s houses to sell her candles. She had bought a large amount of supplies at Canadian Tire to start the business but there was one big wrinkle in the plan. She could not get people to host the parties. The woman apologized for not being able to pay her bill and given the large amount of supplies she had on hand, with little prospect for parties, she had no idea when she could pay.
Now let’s be honest, most of the time this is where the story would end. The agent would say she was sorry to hear about the woman’s plight and then admonish her to pay very soon. The agent might have even told a few people the story. She could easily be forgiven for not trying to “win a customer for life.” But few agents would have taken the next step which this woman did.
The next day she called the woman up and said “I have been thinking about your situation and I have an idea. We have several hundred people, mostly women, who work here at the call center. I’d like to organize a day where we have some candle parties during lunch times here at the center. I will put up fliers, talk up the party and all you need to do is show up with your candles.”
A few weeks later they held the parties. Not only did the woman sell out most of her inventory but many of the agents said they’d like to hold parties in their house for their friends. The day of parties at the call center launched the struggling business. Not only did the woman pay off her credit card but a year later sent a letter to the president of Canadian Tire about what a difference this agent had made in her life and business. The agent won an award from the company. She had, of course, won a customer for life.
This simple story illustrates so many of the things. First, the issue of responsibility, it was not in the agent’s job description to help people pay their bills or to help struggling businesses become successful, but she took responsibility anyway. She could have easily said “that’s not my job” to do that. Instead she did what everyone does who steps up, she saw a need and decided she was the right person to do something about it. This is what 100% responsibility means in action. It means saying “why not me” instead of “why me?”
It also illustrates what a profound difference we can make regardless of where we sit. Stepping up is about doing what you can, where you are, and with what you have. There are so many of us are waiting to be in a position of influence before we influence. The opposite is more representative of reality. The more we influence, the more we will given the opportunity to influence. That agent’s credibility in the company grew because she stepped up. Awards are not given to those who simply punch their weight but to those who decide to lead in a way greater than their position.
You are leading right now whatever your position may be. Why not lead bigger than your position?